Focus groups are ideal when you want to gain multiple perspectives in an interactive group setting.
However, one of the things that can happen in focus groups is “group think.” The first person starts off on a tangent – good or bad – and then the entire room goes along with that first opinion. This is a dynamic that every good researcher is aware of.
So does groupthink invalidate a focus group? Of course not, and in fact it can be very useful as long as you know it’s happening and stop it when necessary. Here are a few tips:
- First, establish if group think is a good or a bad thing for your project. Depending on your goals, group think can be a very bad thing. For example, in message testing you’re usually evaluating the kinds of pain/benefit statements that someone experiences in isolation. Groupthink is very damaging in that kind of environment because you end up seeing only one participant’s uneducated, unguided reaction to messages. In this case, maybe focus groups are not the right medium – in-depth interviews or a Web survey may give you better results.
- Remember that group think can be very good. If you’re trying to brainstorm an idea, having somebody to kick off the conversation and then see where the group goes with it is a very good thing. A smart moderator will encourage this kind of thinking for a while and see where it goes. The most creative ideas from focus groups I’ve been in did not come from one single individual. They came from the group members inspiring each other to build off of each other’s experiences and ideas and come up with something more powerful than any of the individual input. When one participants says “what if …”, and then the next participant says “cool idea, but how about this…” and then yet another participant says “or even better, you could take that idea and try…”. Now you’re cooking!
- Be prepared to funnel groupthink. When you see it happening, a good moderator will challenge the group with the opposite assumption. Prompt some “group think” around the positive ideas, and then redirect the group to talk about the negative ideas. Insist that the group gives you multiple perspectives.
Above all – don’t be scared of negative group think! It’s very good to hear every possible objection your target audience can make about your solution BEFORE you start selling, so you can be prepared with the products, messages, and objection handling you need to be successful.